Whose Name Was on Your First Baseball Glove?

Brooks Robinson, a Second Hand Glove, and My Pops

There are a lot of firsts in life: first day of school, first kiss, first car, and first baseball glove to list a few. Do you remember whose name was on your first baseball glove? It’s an easy question if you spent any amount playing baseball. I was never a very good baseball player but I do remember that first glove, the player whose name was on it, and time spent with my Pops.

When my parents signed me up for park district baseball my Pops gave me one of his old gloves, a Brooks Robinson model made by Rawlings. I’ll admit I had no idea who Brooks Robinson was (I was only seven and wasn’t an Orioles fan). My Pops used that glove for a few years before he gave it to me, and he was always serious about conditioning his gloves. By the time he gave it to me it was broken in beautifully.  I felt a little embarrassed that first day of practice. I was the only kid with a ‘used’ glove. All the other kids had shiny gloves that smelled of new leather and seemed to fit their hands perfectly. I stood there with a glove that saw its fair share of dirt, smelled more of oil than leather, and was a bit big for my size. Yep, I was definitely the odd man out.

After batting practice, the coach had us line up and started hitting us ground balls. Those grounders would not stay in those new gloves. The ball seemed to bounce out not matter how hard those kids would try. As for me, I was able to scoop up everything that came my way. I wasn’t any better than those other kids, but I did believe I had a secret weapon. I thought my Pops gave me a special glove (I didn’t know the importance of breaking in a glove at seven) that just seemed to suck up anything that came near it. Years later I learned one of Robinson’s nicknames was “Mr. Hoover” and chuckled about my first day of practice. Even after my short lived career in park district baseball (I was eleven) I continued to use that glove for many years. I spent hours fielding a rubber ball against the side of my school with that glove and for countless pick-up games with friends. I also used that Rawlings Brooks Robinson glove to play catch with its original owner, my Pops.

I don’t have that Brooks Robinson glove any more. The lacing on it finally gave out years ago, and by that time I’d outgrown pick-up games with friends and catch with Pops. I do have the last glove my Pops used before he passed away. It’s a Louisville Slugger TPS, and like every glove my Pops ever owned it’s broken in beautifully. Every now and again I take that glove and a rubber ball to the church a few blocks from my house. I spend a half hour or so fielding grounders and I reminisce about pick-up games from past days, and sometimes I pretend I’m playing catch with Pops.

-K-

There is No ‘I’ in Team

Especially if You Lie About It

Most everybody who participates in organized sports has, at one time or another, exaggerated their skills and accomplishments. The motivations for such exaggerations vary. Some athletes may wish to impress peers, others to impress fans, and yet others may just want to feel a little better about themselves. Whatever the reason for the exaggerations all of the athletes have one thing in common, they participated in the sport. But what about individuals who do more than exaggerate their skills and accomplishments? W.P. Kinsella’s short story “The Eddie Scissons Syndrome” focuses on an individual who lies about playing Major League Baseball and questions the motivations for such a lie.

I mentioned in the July 5 post “Kmart, Ghosts, and Going Home Again” that Kinsella has a talent for writing baseball stories that are about much more than baseball. “The Eddie Scissons Syndrome” is no exception. The story is narrated by Lawrence “Dumpster” Kavanagh, a senior research assistant, who is working for Professor Eugene Willis. Professor Willis is conducting a research study on, “…psychology having to do with sports impostors, people who lie about having played professional sports, lie until they believe their own lies.” Professor Willis’ research brings him into contact with Charles Jefferson Kiley, a man who claims to have played for Comiskey’s White Sox in the spring of 1917. Their interview culminates with Professor Willis accusing Mr. Kiley of lying about playing for the White Sox. Although Willis’ accusation isn’t resolved (the ending of the story is worth an article of its own) the motivations of sports impostors in particular, and impostors in general, are at the heart of the story.

“The Eddie Scissons Syndrome” tells the stories of three impostors. Charles Jefferson Kiley is the third story and is given the greatest amount of attention. Charles Jefferson Kiley is a ninety-four year old man living out his final days in a VA hospital. Kiley seems genuine, his story believable. What is most important is that he does not seek to profit from his lie. The first story of an impostor in the story receives the least amount of attention. Kavanagh relates an experience of sharing a cab with a man who claims to be a famous movie star. Kavanagh is certain that the man is not the star he claims to be but does not question his lie (this is a bit of possible foreshadowing for the end of the story). This man claiming to be a movie star, like Charles Kiley, does not seek to profit from his claim of stardom. The second story of an impostor is told by Professor Willis and given a fair amount of attention. Willis tells the story of a colleague who lies about the importance of his role while serving in the military during WW II. Willis describes him as, “…an impostor who was not a con man.” The colleague, like the other two men, does not seek to profit from his lies. Living in fear of being found out does prompt him to stop lying, but he never admits about lying to his peers. If profit was not the motive for these three men lying, then what was? In the case of Charles Jefferson Kiley, and possibly the other two impostors, it is the desire to belong to something greater than oneself. Kiley wants to be associated with Major League Baseball. If he truly was a catcher for the Chicago White Sox then he becomes a part of history. The desire to belong is a powerful thing and telling what may be considered a harmless lie would seem no worse to the impostor than a professional exaggerating about his/her skills and accomplishments.

Kinsella’s story is a look into the motivations for lying about one’s experiences. One common motive for lying is to profit in some way. Grifters and con men are well aware of their lies and can often be exposed after some detailed fact checking. But what of those people who aren’t looking to profit from their lies? What is their motivation? Kinsella would have us believe that one motivation is the desire to belong. Those of us who have been part of a team (professional or amateur) know that feeling of comradery and belonging to some bigger than oneself. Is it hard to believe that others wouldn’t want that feeling too?

-K-

“The Eddie Scissons Syndrome” Go the Distance Baseball Stories (1995) by W.P. Kinsella